By John Basher
If given the opportunity to test ride a factory bike for even 20 minutes, but it meant traveling through six time zones, would you do it? I’m sure language scholars and my college professors scold me every time I start an article with a question, but I’d rather get you thinking than offer up some bland opener. We’re cut from the same motocross cloth, you and I. That makes us siblings, though not by blood or even heritage. You might be a faster rider, or perhaps first gear is the only gear you’ve ever been comfortable in. That’s okay in my book. Regardless of social status, age, height, weight, gender or build, odds are that if you ride motocross then surely you’d jump at the opportunity to test a factory bike.
Are all factory bikes created equally? No, of course not. Never mind the different brands or size displacements. Instead, focus on the facts at hand. What Ken Roczen will be able to race with in next year’s Supercross series is not what Evgeny Bobryshev will pilot in the Grand Prix series. That’s because of rules and regulations. The word “unobtainable” comes to mind in regard to 450 Grand Prix bikes. European teams aren’t required to abide by the AMA rulebook, meaning they’re able to use different subframes, swingarms and anything else they can dream up. These parts cannot be begged, borrowed and, given the strict security measures taken at MXGP rounds, likely not stolen. You’re probably thinking, Don’t be a fool, John. U.S. race team factory bikes are sweet (sick, rad, awesome, dope or killer, depending on your geographic-based slang). Au contraire. U.S.-based teams do have amazing equipment. I’m fortunate in that I know that truth on a very deep level. Ryan Dungey’s KTM 450SXF is an incredible machine. It’s the gold standard of how a KTM 450SXF race bike should perform for the less than one percenters who can stay on the same lap as Dungey. Here’s the kicker. Roger DeCoster and Red Bull KTM must obey the AMA production rule and all other rules bound by the AMA.
This brings me back to my original question. Would you travel halfway around the world to ride a factory bike for 20 minutes? I should lay the groundwork. Two weeks ago Yamaha’s U.S. division offered MXA the chance to ride Yamaha’s fleet of Grand Prix bikes. Not one bike, but all of them. They would fly me over from Charlotte to Milan – around 30 hours of total travel – to spend 48 hours in Italy. Now don’t cry for me, Argentina. I’m not rattling off timetables in search of pity. Let’s be serious. Who wouldn’t go to Italy and ride factory bikes at Maggiora? I would, and so I did.
Italy is nice. The people drive like they’re Mario Andretti and some smoke like chimneys, but it’s a great culture. Of course there’s Maggiora, the historical track where Johnny O’, RJ and Bailey worked the Euros into the rock-strewn dirt 30 years ago. It’s also the place where the 2016 Motocross des Nations was held – one of the most intense MXDN in recent memory. Maggiora is set against a steep hillside below the town. It’s not open for motocross very often, due to its close proximity to civilization. However, Yamaha rented out the track on Tuesday. That fact added to the prestige of the rare event. I was going to set tires on the same tract of dirt as the sport’s best. That alone was worth the trip.
“THE YAMAHA-SUPPORTED GRAND PRIX TEAMS WANTED MXA TO TEST FIVE BIKES IN ONE DAY. DOING SO WOULD BE AS POSSIBLE AS RIDING A SEGWAY TO THE MOON. ADDITIONALLY, THOSE FIVE BIKES WERE MEANT TO BE SHARED BETWEEN SEVEN PUBLICATIONS. AS A RESULT, EACH TEST RIDER WAS ALLOWED 20 MINUTES ON EACH BIKE. IT WAS…INTERESTING.”
Yamaha Europe does things differently than Yamaha U.S. For starters, the Yamaha-supported Grand Prix teams wanted MXA to test five bikes in one day. Doing so would be as possible as riding a Segway to the Moon. Additionally, those five bikes were meant to be shared between seven publications. As a result, each test rider was allowed 20 minutes on each bike. It was…interesting. Fortunately, I had an ace in the hole. MXA’S Daryl Ecklund was also going to the test. Yamaha was kind enough to make an exception by allowing MXA to bring two people — the only two Americans allowed anywhere near the bikes. That adjustment made things infinitely easier. I focused on the YZ250F race bikes. Daryl was responsible for testing Romain Febvre’s and Jeremy Van Horebeek’s YZ450FM equipment. And, perhaps best of all, Daryl was the photo rider for every bike. Sorry folks, but I can’t scrub. I only whip in the Fall when the Santa Ana winds come howling through Glen Helen and catch my rear wheel in the air. Sure, I can blow up a berm, but so can Granny on a Lark.
How did each bike perform? One was outstanding, a few were very good, and there was one that left me quivering in a corner while sucking my thumb and calling for Momma. You take the good with the bad. I’ll refrain from stating which bike earned our praise (“Is the test session really over?”) and which one gave me nightmares (“I don’t care that it has only been five minutes. I need the next 15 minutes to ice my wrists.”). What I can tell you is that the long trip was worth it. Riding around Maggiora on factory bikes was an experience I’ll never forget.
Now for a dose of reality. The whole time I was spinning laps on Tuesday I couldn’t help thinking how much more comfortable I’d feel if I was on a stock bike. Be careful what you wish for, moto brethren. Factory suspension and works engines don’t make you a faster rider. They only beat you to death and make you shut off earlier. And with that final thought, Ciao!